Entrepreneur develops retail photo store idea
Jan 14, 2013 (The Record (Hackensack - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
New retail chain lets customers turn cellphone images into wall art.
The entrepreneur behind several Bergen County-based businesses, including Dale and Thomas Popcorn in Englewood, is launching a retail chain he hopes will click with cellphone photographers and turn phone snapshots into large-scale works of art.
Warren Struhl, a former Bergen County resident who lives in Florida, will open the first 2,000-square-foot Polaroid Fotobar store in Delray Beach, Fla., next month. He plans to open up to 10 stores this year and said he will be looking for locations in North Jersey.
The stores, which have a licensing agreement to use the Polaroid name, will have computers where customers can wirelessly transfer photos from their cellphones or other devices, edit the photos, and order enlargements printed on materials such as metal, wood or canvas.
Struhl, who has started numerous companies, including PaperDirect, Genesis Direct and online awards company Awards.com, said he is starting Fotobar to capitalize on "the human obsession with taking pictures" and the way new technology is feeding that obsession.
"The tipping point for the proliferation of photography just really started," Struhl said, because the 8-megapixel cameras that have become standard in cellphones allow for large-size enlargements.
The Fotobar stores will not make the kind of prints or products customers can order at a drugstore kiosk, Struhl said. "We don't do 4-by-6 prints or mugs or T-shirts," he said. "We're in the art business. We want to unlock your best picture from your phone, or Facebook, or Flickr, or wherever it might live."
The Polaroid Fotobar website is already taking online orders for enlargements. One customer ordered a picture from a trip printed on a 4-foot-by-7-foot piece of glass. Enlargements like that can cost up to $2,000.
The stores also will sell 2-foot-by-3-foot Polaroid-style enlargements, printed in the familiar Polaroid square with the white border. Struhl said he licensed the Polaroid name because "it's an iconic brand. It means pictures."
Sid Davidowitz, owner of The Picture Spa in Paramus, said Struhl's idea is "kind of reassuring to me that someone like him sees the opportunity that we've been trying to attract for years." Davidowitz said the biggest growth area in photo printing is photos as home decor, which is why he has been offering printing on canvas and metal and fine art reproductions for several years.
Matt Sweetwood, owner of Unique Photo, a camera superstore in Fairfield, said, "Anything that raises consumer awareness for the ability to print either a smart-phone-produced picture or any other kind of picture is really going to be a positive thing" for photography-related business. But, he said, "an excellent idea and successfully executing it at retail are two different things." The demand for large-size prints remains to be seen.
"The nature of photography has really changed from a print to a display situation," Sweetwood said. But over the past few years, printing has been coming back, he said. "Our lab at Unique Photo was up 25 percent last year in terms of its number of prints," he said.
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